Understanding the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes

More than four months have passed since the Writer’s Guild of America (WGA) officially went on strike in May 2023 as a result of their dispute with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). They were soon joined by the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), who began striking in July. Current estimates say that these twin strikes will result in roughly $5 billion in costs. 

One of the core elements that led to these strikes is a matter of the residual payments to writers and actors for their media on streaming services. Basically, there is a major imbalance in the distribution of these residuals to the WGA/SAG-AFTRA compared to the much higher rate that the AMPTP receives. The gap between the guilds’ request for compensation and what the AMPTP is willing to offer is a wide gulf – hundreds of millions of dollars wide. This is one of the primary reasons that the negotiations have been so stagnant for months on end. 

 The WGA and SAG-AFTRA also want to ensure that artificial intelligence technology cannot be used in certain regards. The concern here is the matter of stripping away the human element of creativity in both written and on-screen material. The writers want safeguards around the application of AI in the development of scripts, and the actors want protection against the use of their likenesses created by AI. There is also the moral question of using AI in an attempt to recreate the screen presence of actors who have passed away. 

Thus, when looking at the combination of these various issues, including low residuals for writers and actors, the increased uncertainty of job security, and the influx of AI technology, dissatisfaction amongst guild members reached a fever pitch as they voted to begin striking. Minor adjustments to the rules of the strikes have allowed interim agreements for specific films and crews to continue production or publicity, but only if they are independent projects with no direct connections to the AMPTP. In a recent statement from the WGA, they have expressed interest in making deals with individual major studios “outside the confines of the AMPTP.” At this moment, the US economy has lost upwards of 17,000 jobs due to the strikes. For now, the film industry will continue to see the effect of the strikes as we head into awards season. The upcoming blockbuster Dune: Part Two was poised to be a major awards contender this year, but was delayed from its original November 2023 release date to March 2024. Other films may follow suit if negotiations between the guilds and studios continue at this pace.

For more info visit: https://www.sagaftra.org/ or https://www.wga.org/

Photo Credit: SAG-AFTRA

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